Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shock and Awe - The Grindhouse Experience #5 (9/25/2010)

After weeks of intense jealousy regarding those able to attend the Toronto International Film Festival (as well as other screenings going on in the Greater Toronto Area), it seemed high time for me to once again run the film gauntlet - and what better time to take advantage of some of the new cinema venues that Toronto has to offer than by attending the 5th edition of Dion Conflict's Shock and Awe - The Grindhouse Experience all night marathon at the Fox Theatre.

Having turned 30 years old mere days ago, perhaps I was getting a little old to be prying my eyes open to fit in a few more frames of trashy horror flicks. My withered bones didn't take as well to lack of sleep as they did in my teenage years, and let's not forget that I have a wife who would rather consume a bucket of liquid draino than sit through some of the films in the very impressive line-up. However, I've done my time in all of the previous editions of the all-nighter, and have yet to submit to a moment of sleep. The streak must continue!

But Shock and Awe was just the main course, and there's much to experience before I get to that. Originally I was hoping to check out a screening of Citizen Kane at the Bell Lightbox (part of their Essential 100 series of screenings), but we got into the city a little late. So - after checking into our hotel - my wife and I instead visited the venue to sees A Film Unfinished.

A Film Unfinished (2010)

An often harrowing and (rightfully) unpleasant documentary, A Film Unfinished contains surviving footage of a propaganda film that the Nazis shot in the waning days of the Warsaw ghetto before many of the inhabitants were shipped off to death camps. Director Yael Hersonski uses voice-overs reading from diaries and court transcripts (as well as filmed accounts from some who were actually in the ghetto) to add detail (and necessary context) to the proceedings. While the tactics of the original filmmakers to pervert the truth of what was occurring within the walls of the encampment is sickening, the film provides some amazing insight in the margins of the frames regarding what life was like for those living through one of the darkest periods in human history. One of the final sequences features footage of a mass grave, and is difficult to watch - particularly when inter-cut with the tearful reactions of the holocaust survivors. A draining but rewarding experience.

I should mention that the Bell Lightbox is a beautiful location, though the staff still seemed very tense about the idea of people actually coming in and watching films. A location dedicated to the best possible presentation of these films is something Toronto is lucky to have, and i'm sorry I missed the free screenings of Chaplin's City Lights and Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. over the rest of the weekend. Everything about the interior screams a love for film and filmmakers, and I think that feeling will only become more intense as others discover it.

Following dinner I left my wife behind to check out the Toronto Underground Cinema on Spadina, which is the renovated location of the former Golden Classics theatre which specialized in kung fu films throughout the late 70s and early 80s. The theater itself is HUGE, though it's almost surreal to walk through the small corridors looking for its entrance. Why was I there? Well, having watched A Film Unfinished, I decided to create the most bad-taste possible double feature by watching a special screening of the 70s trash classic Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS.

Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975)

A raucous crowd greeted the shameless sleaze of the original - and likely the best - of the Naziploitation genre. In the recent American Grindhouse documentary Don Edmonds mentioned being horrified when he first read the script for Ilsa, but he threw himself into the material with tongue planted firmly in cheek and - along with the legendary lead performance from Dyanne Thorne (along with some some left over Hogan's Heroes sets) crafted a trash classic. This movie really has everything: violence, mutilation, gunplay, nipple torture, whips and chains and some of the most inventive torture this side of Bloodsucking Freaks. It's shit, of course, but it's certainly never dull.

And that was the end of Day 1.

Day 2 was spent pleasantly wandering through Toronto. I briefly considered taking in a screening of The Human Centipede at the Toronto Underground Cinema but, having not enjoyed my first viewing, decided to instead prepare myself for the evening ahead. However, since I have a rather awful sense of direction I decided to head to the Fox Theatre a bit early and - in a classic bad move on my part - check out the film that was running before the Grindhouse marathon. So much for pacing myself.

Oddly, instead of trying to capture a few folks who might wander in early with something a bit more genre friendly, I ended up instead watching the Angelina Jolia action vehicle Salt.

Salt (2010)

I'm not going to lie to you, the early check-out from my hotel that morning meant that I was sort of hoping I might be able to catch a few minutes of sleep during this one. That said, I did leave open the possibility that this might be decent, as while director Phillip Noyce is inconsistent he did direct the terrific Rabbit Proof Fence a few years back. This, however, was predictable in its unpredictability as we're left wondering if CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is actually a brainwashed Russian agent that has been waiting for decades to spring into action. The cast is great, with Liev Schreiber and the always awesome Chiwetel Ejiofor putting in solid work, but the action is surprisingly lifeless. It also is really slow getting going, and Jolie just isn't believable as an unstoppable ass-kicker. Maybe I shouldn't have re-watched Terminator 2 last week, as it made the movie as a whole feel pretty wimpy (and Angelina aint no Linda Hamilton).

Oh, but it was loud. So.. no sleep till morning.

The great unwashed masses (hey! I showered!) came from all around to take in the all night festivities, and I saw a number of recognizable faces from previous Shock and Awes. Somehow we keep coming back, though by the end one can't help but feel a bit wiped. Or maybe that's just my rapidly increasing age talking. 

Dion came up to the (working!) microphone and welcomed us all, before jumping right into the first film. This seemed like the tightest schedule for a Shock and Awe yet, as there was some sort of religious screening happening at 10 am the next morning. In fact, at a previous screening we were leaving right before a showing of the ridiculous Kirk Cameron-starring Christian movie Fireproof. What the heck, Fox Theatre?

Anyway.. let's begin.

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

For some reason I always confuse this with the film The Giant Spider Invasion, but this is actually a considerably more competent nature-takes-revenge film with plentiful arachnids and a handful of scenes where things go bonzo gonzo that had the crowd roaring. William Shatner plays a small town vet/ladies man who investigates the death of a prized cattle owned by a local farmer (played by legendary western actor Woody Strode). Turns out it was spiders, and things wildly out of control as our eight-legged-friends turn up all over town in the most unexpected places. Things eventually go all Night of the Living Dead, as the few survivors try to hole up in a cabin while spiders pour in through chimneys, windows and air-conditioning vents. Perhaps the biggest laugh of the film - aside from Shatner dancing around piles of spiders in an obvious attempt not to step on one - came from Strode's wife, who attempts to fend off some of the insects with a hand gun. Needless to say, it goes badly.

Filled with hammy acting and mis-judged melodrama - along with lots and lots (and lots) of spiders - this was the perfect film to kick things off. The 16mm print looked fine - and didn't suffer from some unfortunate pan and scanning like the mystery film did. A great time all around.

Brief break allowed for soda and a burrito. I'm putting my life in my hands at this point. That leads us right into..

Goin' Coconuts (1978)

Probably the film of the night that I was most unsure about, and also the one that ended up being the biggest surprise. You couldn't be blamed for not expecting much out of a late-70s Hawiian espionage musical starring Donnie and Marie Osmond, but it actually provided a fine counter-balance to the mix of sleaze and horror that typified the rest of the night's films. Of course the music is awful, and Donnie and Marie are bland even for Mormons, but the supporting cast - including Mel Brooks regular Kenneth Mars doing a variation on his Inspector Kemp from Young Frankenstein, Harold Sakai acting (and looking) like Oddjob, and Golden Girls regular Herb Edelman as the pair's neurotic manager - all seem to be having a load of fun, and this energy carries though to make the whole thing work. It still look awfully like a made-for-TV movie, but it's a lot of fun and pleasantly inoffensive.

Fresh air only damages the lungs at this point. Let's keep going with the night's mystery film.

Mystery Film (19XX)

As usual we were sworn to secrecy regarding the title of the mystery film, but - as they always do - it managed to subvert expectations nicely, as we got to check out a rarely seen early 80s horror. I can't go into much detail, though i'll admit that overall it didn't do much for me, though it has a really good cast (including another small appearance by Charles Lane, who seems to appear in every film i've been watching lately) and a particularly schmaltzy ending. The 16mm print seemed to cut off a bit of information, though it was never difficult to keep track of what was going on.

Only half way through? But my eyes are getting.. very.. heavy.. Time to refill on soda, and jump right into my favorite film of the evening.

The Stud (1978)

A trash masterpiece, The Stud is an adaptation of a Jackie Collins novel starring Joan Collins as the original awful cougar (it's telling that the film's sequel is called The Bitch). Collins plays a wealthy club owner who turns young waiter Tony Blake (Oliver Tobias) into the manager of the hottest discoteque in town, while treating him like her own private stud on the side. But Blake is a bit too ambitious to remain a pet, and soon he's trying to break out from under her thumb to start his own club. Filled with outrageous fashion, plenty of nudity, and some pounding disco music the film has energy to spare - and is willing to let it all hang out. The American print has dubbed "American" voices over the strong British accents, which just adds to the surreal nature of some of the scenes - particularly a memorable set piece in Paris that features a sex trapeze! I love a film willing to embrace excess, and The Stud does that in spades. Just a ridiculous amount of filthy fun.

Red Scorpion (1989)

I'd never seen Red Scorpion. Or, at least, I haven't retained any memory of the film. So, I was pumped to check out one of the defining roles for the recently resurgent Dolph Lundgren. Frankly, what's so fascinating about the film is how deliberately it's meant to convert Dolph from the evil Russian in Rocky IV to a freedom loving commie killer in this film, all the better to portray all American heroes like He-Man and The Punisher! Dolph really was a man-mountain at this point (though was rather lacking in charisma), and demolishes everything in his path - and has a spiritual awakening after nearly being executed by his countrymen. Soon he's fighting with African revolutionaries and spouting one-liners like a true action star, and he's supported ably by the always awesome M. Emmet Walsh and director Joseph Zito - who also directed the similarly anti-Communist Invasion U.S.A.

Dolph's soujorn in the desert started to make staying awake awfully difficult, but once things got explodey I was able to power through to the end. Which is a good thing, because it's 7 AM and there's only one more to go!

Ghoulies (1985)

Charles Band later went on to create a cottage industry of films featuring small monsters - Puppet Master 1-99, Demonic Toys, Dollman - but he broke through (as a producer at least) with this modestly budgeted Gremlins rip-off in the mid 80s. Actually, calling this a Gremlins rip-off is rather unfair, as aside from the tiny creatures on display (notably shown in a toilet on the poster) the plot holds very few similarities, instead focusing on a young couple who inherit an old mansion that was once used to hold satanic rituals. Soon the male half is starting to get posessed by evil, and - with the help of some awesome dwarfs - gets to work bringing the evil Malcolm Graves back from the dead. Thankfully the awesome Jack Nance is around to help save everyone - including the couple's irritating friends (one of whom is a young Mariska Hargitay). There's a big magic fight at the end, and a "shock" ending promising a sequel - of which there ended up being three more!

And with that it was time to wander back out into the cool Toronto morning air, which was surprisingly filled with commotion. Apparently there was some sort of marathon going on, and the spectators looked a bit surprised to see a collection of pale geeks shuffle into the sunlight. Who could blame them?

It would be a while until I got some much needed sleep, but as I rode the greyhound bus back towards Peterborough I was left with only one lingering question:

When can I do it again?! Bring on Shock and Awe #6.


J.T. said...

I always confuse Kingdom of the Spiders with the more awesome Empire of the Ants, which BTW features Joan Collins from THE STUD~!

People made so much fuss about Collins being nude in those movie adoptations of those Jackie Collins movies, but she was the vamp in just about all of her films so it wasn't a big thing to me.

The she got naked again at age 49 in an edition of Playboy.

Did... not... want...

Winston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Winston said...

Fireproof is a masterpiece of spiritual cinema.

Doug Tilley said...

It's certainly no Bibleman. Though, I may have been blinded by the star power of Willie Aames (of ZAPPED! fame).

FEEDBACK said...

Great account and reviews! But I have to 30, you're still a pup!'ll see for yourself. ;)